Children who are excluded from school are at ‘serious risk of involvement in knife crime and youth violence’, the children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned.
Excluded schoolchildren are also vulnerable to exploitation and grooming by criminal gangs, according to new research published by Barnardo’s, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, and the youth health charity Redthread.
Alternative School Provision is at ‘Breaking Point’
The research highlights the lack of provision for excluded pupils as a major contributing factor to why children fall through the net and become caught up in violence and criminal exploitation.
A Freedom of Information request, submitted by Barnardo’s, found that one in three English councils have no vacant places in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) – where children who are excluded from mainstream school receive education.
As of July 2018, 47 of the councils which responded declared they have no free spaces in state pupil referral units.
There is also a huge variation in the quality of ‘alternative provision’ for pupils excluded from schools, with Ofsted rating one in five spaces as inadequate or requiring improvement.
Barnardo’s believe the system of alternative provision for excluded school children is at ‘breaking point.’
The charity’s research also shows that exclusions are on the rise, with a 56 per cent leap in exclusions since 2014. This increase, combined with the rising number of unofficial exclusions, raises the prospect of a crisis for vulnerable excluded children.
Researchers fear that as many as five times more pupils are being unofficially excluded from schools than the official figures show.
Government Action Required to Tackle ‘PRU to Prison Pipeline’
Sarah Jones Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime and MP for Croydon Central Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Campaigners argue that the lack of alternative provision and the ‘postcode lottery’ in terms of quality, combined with rising exclusions, are fuelling rises in knife crime, violence and criminal gangs exploiting children.
Barnardo’s is urging the government to act on reducing exclusions from schools and to invest in alternative provision.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Preventing serious youth violence is ‘everyone’s business’ – and schools along with police, charities and others have a key role to play. Exclusion must be a last resort, and all children must have access to high quality full-time education that gives them the best possible chance of achieving good grades, and staying safe from harm.
“We know children excluded from mainstream schools are at serious risk of being groomed and exploited by criminal gangs. We urge the government to help schools to reduce the number of children who are excluded, and improve the quality of Alternative Provision, so vulnerable young people get the help they need to achieve a positive future.”
Sarah Jones, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime and MP for Croydon Central, has described the highest knife crime on record as a ‘public health crisis.’ She has also highlighted the poor reputation of as PRUs among professionals.
She said: “Exclusions are rising and in many cases there is literally nowhere for those children to go. This is heartbreaking. Schools need resources to support pupils through difficult periods. Too many children are being socially excluded and marked as failures, with tragic consequences.
“Professionals talk about the ‘PRU to prison pipeline’. The system is failing these young people.”
Redthread Chief Executive, John Poyton, reiterated that youth violence and the exploitation of schoolchildren are health issues, and argued that exclusion from education is a ‘root cause.’
“Youth violence is one of the many health inequalities faced by young people today. As with other health issues, it is essential we diagnose the root causes of why young people become caught up in cycles of violence.
“This research highlights that lack of educational engagement is one of these root causes and can all too often lead to young people becoming involved in serious youth violence.”
Do Children Have a Right not to be Excluded from School?
School exclusions contributing to gang violence say @barnardos . We know that many excluded pupils often have low wellbeing and unmet mental health needs. Greater support is needed in schools to help prevent this.https://t.co/mBk2VT4HIE
— Children & Young People's Mental Health Coalition (@CYPMentalHealth) October 30, 2018
This means that governments must do everything possible to enable access to educational institutions and that children are entitled to education without discrimination.
This means that schools can exclude pupils if they have seriously broken the behaviour policy and allowing them to remain would undermine the education or welfare of others.
The UK is also a signatory to the United National Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This convention emphasises that public institutions should make the ‘best interests of the child’ paramount, wherever possible.
Article 3 states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
It goes on to outline that, “States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being.”
As ever with rights, there is a balance to be struck. However, excluded children who receive zero or inadequate alternative provision seem to be exposed to greater risk of violence and exploitation by criminal gangs. Given the protections put in place for their rights and education, it appears that these children are being failed.
@barnardos echoes the @YouthViolenceUK interim report that exclusions put young ppl at serious risk of knife crime & being groomed to commit #DrugDealing.https://t.co/SDHlIpTysa
This correlates w/ @vruscotland who reduced exclusions by 80% in lowering knife by 40% #TimeForAction pic.twitter.com/KC9Rqm6xQg
— Leroy Logan MBE (@LeroyLogan999) October 30, 2018